4098′ | Height Order 36th
Greek mythology had its Helen of Troy, as we all know, with a face that launched a thousand ships. Well, in the Adirondacks we have Cascade, a reputedly easy climb by Adirondack standards and a view—breathtaking—that has launched a thousand high peaks adventures, and many more than that to be sure.
The ease of the climb to Cascade’s open summit and the inspiring grandeur of the 360° view has lured tens of thousands of climbers to its summit annually in the last few decades, busloads in fact. Cascade enthusiasm became the poster child for high peaks over-crowding, spurring regulations to limit group size and, more recently, prompting the rerouting of the trail to its vista. Tens of thousands of boots, sandals, sneakers, and even bare feet have so damaged the old trail to its summit, state of the art when designed and built in 1974, that a new trail was needed, substantially lengthening the trip, but providing ample and safe parking and a sustainable course that will withstand the tramping of generations to come.
This little mountain among the giants, 36th in order of height, has forged a distinctive history, a unique place in the 46er experience, and as Grace would have told you, is spiced with a little unique Adirondack folklore to boot (pun intended). If you have a few minutes, we’ll tell you the story of this little gem that stands watch over the pass between Keene and Lake Placid and maybe inspire you to learn more about the mountains in our backyard. They are right there – just off in the distance. All you have to do is “Go and find it!”
How a Mountain Got Its Name
It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out how this mountain got its name. Cascade is one among the peaks identified by something physically unique about the topography – how it looks: Gothics, Sawteeth, Saddleback, Nippletop, Tabletop, Rocky Peak Ridge and Cascade’s immediate neighbors, Whiteface and Big Slide. In the case of this windswept rocky summit, there is a little stream, with hardly a trickle during dry periods, that tumbles steeply from near the summit, down the western flank of the massif, flowing along and through a trench of ancient Grenville rock. As that rivulet reaches the flattening delta at the base of the mountain, it falls precipitously in a cascade, dumping its cool flow onto the land dividing the two crystal lakes that share the mountain’s name. Thus, the name.
The mountain wasn’t always called Cascade. The earliest name was Shining Mountain; fitting perhaps because the rocky top does seem to shine sometimes. Its neighbor, the summit we call Porter today, was called West Mountain and the little range together was known as Sable Mountains. The ponds deep in the valley to the west of the summit, separating it from Pitch-Off, went through name changes as well. The earliest was Edmund’s Ponds after a man named Edmunds who lived on the road to Keene. Over time the longer of the two ponds became known as Long Pond, and that too became the name of the mountain—Long Pond Mountain.
The Adirondacks began to be explored with increasing fervor in the 19th century and tourism began to blossom. In the 1870’s a man named Nicaner Miller and his wife Edna Goff Miller carved a little summer resort from the Cascade mountainside and the delta dividing the lakes. It went through several owners until it was torn down in the early 20th century, but in its heyday it was quite a grand affair with a piano and even tennis courts. The Millers opened a post office there in what they called Cascadeville, and the general belief is that they were responsible for naming the lakes and the mountain behind them after the cascade that brought water to their guests.
It’s no wonder the Millers and their successors broke their backs building a resort where they did. Those two beautiful lakes offer one of the most scenic passes in the Adirondacks, shimmering waters, dense green forests accented with the splash of white birch, and the sheer sides of Pitch-Off mountain. Breathtaking! It’s a scene which inspired one of Grace’s favorite mountain yarns, as she used to describe her folklore stories, always told with a little gleam in her eye as she held court with visiting climbers on the porch at Boulders, her summer home on Schroon Lake. If you pause here and take a little breather from our adventure we will let Grace tell the story, just as she used to.
The Legend of Pitch-Off Mountain Pass
Years ago a tinker plied his trade between “the Valley” and Lake Placid, pushing his little cart laden with shiny tins, pots and pans from one farmhouse to another en route. The two-mile stretch through Pitch-Off Mountain Pass, with the rocky ledges towering over the narrow trail on the one side and the Cascade Lakes on the other, seemed especially long in that no one dwelt in the pass. On sunshiny days it was pleasant, but when the wind blew, rocks were hurled from Pitch-off into the pass, even as today, and travel was hazardous.
One day as the tinker pushed his cart up the steep hill leading out of the pass towards Lake Placid, a terrific wind came up. And the tinker, his cart, tins, pots, and pans were blown into the lake and he was drowned.
Legend has it that on a stormy day, should you linger in the dangerous pass you can hear the clatter of the tinker’s wares as they are being blown into the lake. However, should the sun be shining, you can see the glitter of those shiny tins on the lake’s bottom. Find yourself a parking place and see for yourself!
The little waterfall feeding the lakes has been a draw all its own for almost 200 years. Not only is it likely the geologic source of the land that divides the lakes (exactly when that happened is uncertain), that deep fissure is where we find some of New York State’s rarest mineral deposits and a timeline of sorts for Adirondack geologic history.
When Ebenezer Emmons was surveying the Adirondacks for the first time, after making the first ascent of the highest peak in the state which he named Marcy in 1837, he also explored other noteworthy geologic features and a number of the high peaks. One curiosity he explored was Cascade’s fissure carved into the ancient Grenville leading the stream from summit to the lakes below.
Although Emmons does not record ascending to the top during this exploration, a leading local historian opined that Emmons’ notes suggest that he had gotten pretty far up the mountain and may well have pushed on to the summit. He had climbed other mountains so why not this one as well? But the omission seems a glaring one for such a detail-oriented scientist as Emmons. Why would he, of all people, omit recording Cascade’s spectacular view? Speculation aside, what we do know is that the geology in that fissure is unique in all the Adirondacks and it drew Emmons’ attention. Perhaps that was enough for that trip. Whether Emmons was the first to take in that splendorous view or if perhaps it was someone else is unknown. But history fills in the gap for us; there is at least one other documented claim to Cascade’s first ascent and it’s an interesting tale of adventure!
To the Summit!
When the earliest 46ers from Troy, N.Y. started fanning the climbing fire they had two books that were their mountain bibles, as Grace used to call them. One was Bob Marshall’s High Peaks of the Adirondacks; the little booklet that started it all. The idea of climbing 46 mountains in the Adirondacks was Bob’s and his brother George’s idea. They started out with a list of 42, 4000 feet high at least, ¾ mile distant, or 300-foot elevation change.
Bob wrote about their adventure and his recounting of the adventure was published by the Adirondack Mountain Club as its first trail guide of sorts back in 1922. The intrepid Troy hikers knew that book like the back of their hand.
The other book that drove their mountain passion was Peaks and People of the Adirondacks, written by Russ Carson of Glens Falls, which ADK published in 1928. Carson claimed that the first person to climb Cascade was a trapper, Lon Pierce, and it is that little story that will lead us into some more of the mountain’s folklore.
Lon set a line of traps and one on the treeless top of Cascade Mountain. Checking his traps one day in about 1872, so the story goes, he reached the summit and found a big Adirondack black bear fussing and snorting and carrying on with a front leg caught firmly in the jaws of that trap. Lon didn’t have a gun with him that day so he scurried on down the mountain and into Cascadeville to ask his friend Charles Goff, who owned the only gun in those parts, for a little help. The two men clambered back up the mountain and Lon took aim at that bear intending to dispatch him with a shot to the skull. But just as he fired, the bear reared up on its hind legs in a menacing display of ferocity, trap dangling from his paw, and Lon missed his mark, the round hitting that bear in the gut. Well . . . the bear was furious, of course, and carried on in such a frenzy that those two men feared for their lives! But Lon kept his head about him and his second shot put that bear down. And that, according to Russ Carson, was the first known ascent of Cascade, a story he got from someone who would know—Charlie Goff’s son Walter.
Lon’s hunting trip was well before trails were cut to the summit, of course. The very first one, according to Carson, was laid out from the Miller’s hotel—which by then was owned by folks named Weston—around 1891 and went straight up along the falls and then up that fissure. By the time the Marshall brothers visited the peak near the end of the second decade of the 20th century that first trail was long gone, and the glorious forest leading to the open summit had been burned to a cinder, one of many casualties of the forest fire of 1903. With the trail burned away and abandoned, the Marshalls bushwhacked to the summit; a rigamarole of a random scoot as the early 46rs from Troy would say, borrowing and embellishing upon a term Old Mountain Phelps used to describe a mountain-top cripplebrush scramble.
The ’20s and ’30s were a formative period for mountain exploration in the Adirondacks. After the Marshalls and Herb Clark completed their feat, two other climbers, P. F. (Fay) Loope (#4) and Herbert L. Malcolm (#5) followed their lead, and right on their heels came the Troy group. Fay didn’t start climbing the 46 until 1927, well after the Marshalls, finishing in 1933. Malcolm, however, who finished his 46th peak in 1935 started long before the Marshalls in 1907. Then came the Troy group and it spread from there, all pretty much fueled by Peaks and People and Bob Marshall’s High Peaks tales. Interestingly, although looking through the 46er Roster it seems pretty obvious that Cascade has historically been the starting point for the vast majority of 46er adventures, it wasn’t until 46er #90, Harry K. Eldridge, recorded his finish in 1953 that Cascade appears as a first ascent (he climbed it in 1942 to start his adventure).
High Peaks Literature
The literature that followed the Marshall and Carson works fueled interest in climbing the high peaks and two more books about the mountains appeared on the scene in that nascent period. A journal-like tale of climbing adventure in a style that would become characteristic of Adirondack climbing culture was penned by Robert S. Wickham entitled Friendly Adirondack Peaks, a limited ADK publication of 500 copies in 1924. Wickham’s experience was very similar to the Marshalls, they were all climbing at about the same time, but Wickham did not explore all the high peaks as the Marshalls did. Nevertheless, his trek covered many of the prominent peaks, and his thorough tale of that experience added to public knowledge of the region. Climbing Cascade was not part of Wickham’s record, but he saw what the Marshalls climbed through from a distance, describing the scene of Cascade when viewed from Mount Colden as “fire-scarred.”
The last of the 20’s books took the form of a true climbing guide. Penned by Walter Collins O’Kane, who wrote similar guides for the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Whites of New Hampshire, was titled Trails and Summits of the Adirondacks, published in 1928. O’Kane’s guide was comprehensive and authoritative in scope, providing thorough descriptions of routes and history, and extending to numerous peaks other than the Marshalls’ high peaks list. In fact, O’Kane’s guide did not even address all of the major peaks the Marshalls had climbed.
But Cascade was among his sketches and in introducing his discussion he gushed with praise: “One of the striking panoramas of high peaks, from Keene Valley along the skyline of the Great Range to Marcy and on to Colden and MacIntyre (Algonquin), is that from the summit of Cascade Mountain, which rises steeply from the Cascade Lakes, twelve miles from Lake Placid.” O’Kane devoted six pages to his description of this gem, including a photograph looking over Big Slide to the expanse of the Great Range, detailing the route and in glowing accolades, the scene laid out before him from the summit. Is it any wonder people have flocked to Cascade?
O’Kane’s route was the second trail cut to the summit by the Camp and Trail Club in October 1925, a few years after the Marshalls’ climb. It started a bit west of the land divide and upper lake, winding its way somewhat steeply—but less so than the first trail which O’Kane also mentions—up the mountain from the southwest, much the way the current trail, laid out by the Algonquin Chapter of the ADK in 1974, does today. That second trail, interestingly enough, was laid out by Jed Rossman, the Camp and Trails Club caretaker and guide at Adirondack Lodge. For context, this is the period after Henry Van Hoevenberg’s ownership and well before ADK took title to what we know today as the Loj. Jed was somewhat of a legend to the Troy hikers in the 1930’s and a yarn Grace loved to tell about Jed is how we will start to wind up our little sketch. Once again, we will let Grace tell the story.
Go and Find It
Old-time Adirondackers like to recall the early days when “city sports,” as outdoor enthusiasts were called, found it necessary to engage the services of a guide. A favorite among mountain climbers is a tale of Jed Rosman.
Jed had guided a city man up a mountain. Upon reaching the summit, Jed sat down and smoked his pipe. The city man walked around drinking in the beauty and soaking up what “Old Mountain” Phelps, one of the Keene Valley guides, called “heaven up’histedness” (the feeling he had when standing on one of his “mountings”).
After a considerable time, the city man nodded to Jed and together they climbed down the mountain. Back at the base, a gold piece was pressed into Jed’s hand. He looked at it for quite a spell thinking how it would come in handy, then he reasoned, “There is a trail up that mountain. The city man didn’t need me; he could have gotten there by himself.”
Handing back the gold piece, Jed observed, “I warn’t no use.”
To this, the city man replied, “What use is it, Jed, standing on the brink of heaven, if you haven’t got a friendly hand to hold to?”
Grace’s Final Climb
There were friendly hands to hold aplenty on Cascade on August 26, 1986. An unseasonably cold day greeted climbers that day and a group of youngsters started up that morning with parents in tow. The cold and breeze kept the pace quick and the bugs in hiding as the mountain warmed ever so slightly in brilliant sunshine. Little did those youngsters know that they would be part of history that day.
Around noon, a group led by a spirited matriarch of the mountains, dressed in her characteristic red nylon anorak, emerged from the trees. Propped up by her friends and an LL Bean walking stick she ambled cautiously up the rock face to a summit she had visited countless times. It was none other than Grace Hudowalski, number 9! At age 80 this was to be her last tryst with one of her beloved high peak summits.
Grace was in high spirits as she peeled off outer layers revealing a commemorative t-shirt presented that morning by 1788—Fred Johnson. It read simply “Amazing Grace”. Photos were snapped. There was much revelry. Surprise lunches were packed in Tupperware containers Fred had made for the occasion bearing 46er decals—Fred loved to do things like that. And then, to the amazement and joy of those wide-eyed youngsters, following time-honored 46er tradition, Fred pulled a shoebox of individually packed ice cream bricks in dry ice from his pack, just as “Uncle Ed”, Grace’s husband, was known to do so many years before. “Mom, Mom . . . they have ice cream, on a mountain!” We all laughed as we shared the day and our ice cream with our impressionable new climbing friends. That is the stuff of history. Mountain memories!
A New Summit Trail
The new trail starts at the Mount Van Hoevenberg ski complex, where there is ample parking. It’s a considerably longer approach, winding its way up the mountain into the col between Cascade and Porter, meeting up there with the existing trail that connects both summits. It’s a little delayed in opening, COVID played a major role in that, but it will happen very soon, according to officials we spoke to at DEC. The old trail and roadside parking will be brushed in and they hope the public will use the new route, letting nature reclaim the 1974 trail as it has countless other human intrusions. History marches on.
The trail we used that day, the trail that has withstood so many footsteps for almost 50 years, is about to become history as well, replaced by a new, sustainable trail to the summit. Like climbing itself, mountain history is never stationary. You will want to keep an eye on the ADK guidebooks for the details as they emerge. The new trail is already on the latest ADK high peaks trail map. Those ADK guidebooks have been the recognized primary authority on climbing the high peaks since 1934, well worth the investment for their detailed descriptions of routes and other valuable information even in our computer age.
And that is the story we wanted to tell you. There are many more details that we simply could not include in our sketch, but we hit the highlights. Peruse the reference materials if you want to know everything. All you have to do is “Go and Find it!”
- Top of Cascade mt. Adirondack State Park, high peaks region by David Barnas via Creative Commons (license)
- Black Bear Image by Kira Hoffmann from Pixabay
- Old Cart Image by Jan Nijman from Pixabay